Jharkhand: Risks amidst decline

Despite falling trends in violence across the country, a significant combat zone still remains in Jharkhand, where the Naxalites continue in their efforts to regain and expand their lost areas of influence.

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Communist Party of India (Maoist)

Orchestrating their first act of violence in the current year, on January 10, 2024, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres shot dead their former comrade Nelson Bhengra near his house in West Singhbhum District, accusing him of being a ‘police informer’. Bhengra, a resident of Samtha village in Jeraikela, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Saranda Forest Division, was once active in subversive activities in the Saranda area. This is the lone incident of killing recorded in 2024, thus far (data till January 21).

Three other violent incidents (all of arson) have been reported in 2024.

According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Jharkhand recorded a total of 33 Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-related fatalities in 2023, up from 21 in 2022, an increase of 57.14 per cent. A high of 200 fatalities were recorded in 2000, according to SATP data available since March 6, 2000.

14 civilians were killed through 2023 in Jharkhand as against six such killings in 2022. The 2022 fatalities were lowest in this category, since March 6, 2000. A high of 79 civilian fatalities was recorded in 2011, and a total of 823 such killings have been reported since March 6, 2000.

Fatalities in the Security Forces (SFs) category have also registered a spike. Five SF personnel were killed in 2023 as against two in 2022. A low of two SF fatalities was recorded twice, in 2020 and 2022, though a high of 77 fatalities was been recorded in this category in 2002. A total of 546 such killings have been reported since March 6, 2000.

On the other hand, the number of Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists) killed increased marginally from 13 in 2022 to 14 in 2023.

The SF:Maoist kill ratio, though it remained in favour of the SFs, dropped to 1:2.8 in 2023, from 1:6.5 in 2022. The overall kill ratio since March 6, 2000, favoured the SFs at 1:1.43, and the most favourable ratio was recorded in 2020, at 1:9.

SFs arrested 144 Naxalites in 62 incidents of arrest in 2023. 195 Naxalites were arrested in 99 such incidents in 2022.

Some other parameters were also indicative of some resurgence in Maoist activities in 2023. The number of explosions carried out by the Naxalites in the state increased from 12 in 2022 to 26 in 2023. Incidents of arson also increased from nine in 2022 to 13 in 2023.

The number of Districts from where killings were reported also increased in 2023. Out of a total of 24 Districts in Jharkhand, fatalities were reported from eight in 2023 – West Singhbhum (19); Chatra (six); Palamu and Gumla (two each); Bokaro, Hazaribagh, Latehar, and Ranchi (one each). Seven Districts recorded such fatalities in 2022 – Latehar (six); West Singhbhum (four); Khunti and Lohardaga (three each); Ranchi and Seraikela-Kharsawan (two each) and Giridih (one).

Meanwhile, an analysis of overground and underground LWEactivities in the state also indicates an widening of the areas from where activities were reported. According to the SATP database, Naxalite activities were reported in 17 of a total of 24 districts in 2023. West Singhbhum District fell into the ‘highly affected’ category; seven districts — Bokaro, Chatra, Gumla, Hazaribagh, Latehar, Palamu, and Ranchi — were ‘moderately affected’; and nine districts — Dumka, East Singhbhum, Garhwa, Giridih, Khunti, Koderma, Lohardaga, Simdega, and Ramgarh — were ‘marginally affected.’ By comparison, in 2022, LWEactivities were reported from 11 districts. Latehar, West Singhbhum, Khunti, Lohardaga, Seraikela-Kharsawan, Ranchi and Giridih, were categorized as ‘moderately affected’; while Palamu, Hazaribagh, Bokaro, and Gumla were in the ‘marginally affected’ category.

Various reports also suggest Naxalite efforts to reestablish their influence.

According to a July 28, 2023, report, while Police and central forces were trying to flush out the CPI-Maoist by carrying out special operations against them in the Kolhan and Porahat Forest divisions in West Singhbhum District, the Maoists resorted to poster campaigns in the district. Issued by the CPI-Maoist, the posters were found stuck on a wall and on trees at Jorapokhar village along the Sonua-Lonjo Road under the Sonua Police Station area, about 130 kilometres away from Jamshedpur, on July 27, 2023. The posters read that ‘boobytraps’ in the form of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) would not be removed from the Kolhan and Porahat Forest divisions unless the administration withdrew forward camps of paramilitary forces from the area. The posters also announced that CPI-Maoist Maoist would observe a ‘martyrs’ week’ from July 28 to August 3.

Further, according to an October 8, 2023, report, the Jharkhand government was monitoring five organisations for their suspected links with CPI-Maoist. These organisations included the Central Jan Sangharsh Samiti working in Gumla and Latehar districts; the Jharkhand Krantikari Mazdoor Union working in the districts of Bokaro, Dhanbad, East Singhbhum, and West Singhbhum; the Anti-Displacement Jan Vikas Andolan working in East Singhbhum, Giridih, and Bokaro; the Jharkhand Jan Sangharsh Morcha working in Bokaro; and the Jharkhand Jan Adhikar Mahasabha working in the entire state of Jharkhand. These organisations are suspected to have connections with the Maoists and were becoming a hindrance in the eradication of extremism and in the execution of development programmes.

On the positive side, the State saw a fading influence of the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI),Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) and other CPI-Maoist splinters.

Further, overall LWE-related incidents dropped from 197 in 2022 to 172 in 2023, in Jharkhand.

Indeed, on November 23, 2023, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren declared that the state Police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were in the concluding stages of eliminating the LWE menace in the state. Earlier, on April 29, 2023, Soren had stated that the LWE movement was on its last legs and the morale of security personnel fighting the menace was high.

Amidst the campaign against the Naxalites in the state, deficits in the Police force, nonetheless, still endure. According to the latest data provided by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), the State had a police-population ratio (policemen per hundred thousand population), as on January 1, 2022, of 162.73, significantly lower than the sanctioned strength of 213.75, though higher than the national average of 152.80. The ratio declined from 167.59 per 100,000, on January 1, 2021, when the national average was 152.51. Similarly, the number of Police personnel per 100 square kilometers of area, was 79.01, significantly lower than the sanctioned strength of 103.78, though higher than the national average of 63.70. The ratio has declined marginally from 80.29 on January 1, 2021, when the national average was 62.96. According to BPR&D data, there was a vacancy of 19,777 personnel, against the sanctioned strength of 82,854 in the State. Moreover, of a sanctioned strength of 149 apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State, 36 posts remained vacant, considerably weakening the executive direction of the Force.

Despite falling trends in violence across the country, a significant combat zone still remains in Jharkhand, where the Naxalites continue in their efforts to regain and expand their lost areas of influence. As several challenges remain, intensive and aggressive SF operations are needed in the affected areas, to foil the Maoists’ attempts at revival.

Deepak Kumar Nayak

Deepak Kumar Nayak, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi, India

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